|Property Matters – The EFCL Query
Published Thursday July 14th, 2011
Despite the first column in this series, I have had no direct reply
or even acknowledgement from any of the EFCL officials to whom my
initial queries were directed.
It seems that the people concerned would rather not write, on this
matter at least. A meeting has been indirectly suggested, which of
course would have to be properly recorded and minuted – no word on that
meeting as I write again.
What could be the delay or difficulty in answering the five simple
questions posed last week –
- Is there a new EFCL Confidentiality policy?
- When did that come into effect?
- Would you please provide a copy of that policy?
- Was that policy approved by the Board of Directors?
- Is the Ministry of Education aware of this new policy?
Four of those questions require basic yes/no responses, while only
one requires a date.
I closed Sunday’s article by reminding readers of the equation
Expenditure of Public money – Accountability –
Transparency = CORRUPTION
The elementary accountability of a public company having its policies
available for the public to consider seems to be either lacking or of
low priority in the case of EFCL. As we move along, it will be
interesting to see how the Transparency part of the equation works out.
In researching this article, it emerged that our country is a
signatory to two relevant international conventions. As I understand it,
the effect of our State having become signatory to those agreements is
that the country has adopted those standards.
The first one is the Inter-American
Convention against corruption, which was signed by our country in
April 1998. At that time, UNC was in power, under PM Basdeo Panday. At
Article III, clause 8, we are obliged to
“…consider the applicability of measures
to…create, maintain and strengthen…Systems for protecting public
servants and private citizens who, in good faith, report acts of
corruption, including protection of their identities, in accordance
with their Constitutions and the basic principles of their domestic
The second convention is the United Nations’
Convention against Corruption, which was signed by our country in
December 2003. At that time, PNM was in power, under PM Patrick Manning.
At Article 8 – Codes of Conduct for Public Officials, clause 4 obliges
“…4. Each State Party shall also
consider, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its
domestic law, establishing measures and systems to facilitate the
reporting by public officials of acts of corruption to appropriate
authorities, when such acts come to their notice in the performance
of their functions…”
So, what is the big secret?
I do understand that staff at companies like this can jeopardize the
integrity and effective operations of the organisation by leaking
certain confidential information. That would be a proper concern of
management and a confidentiality policy is one of the ways that could be
dealt with, just one.
During the Uff Enquiry, UDeCoTT claimed several times that this or
that document was confidential and used its lawyers to protest strongly,
sometimes even seeking the protection of the High Court. That was
outrageous conduct by a state-owned company, which appeared to be trying
to frustrate the Uff Commission, appointed by the State, by seeking to
conceal documents. A case of ‘the tail wagging the dog’.
This situation is one in which it seems that the dangers of leaks in
relation to tendering estimates, for example, has been conflated to
cover all information in the company. It appears to be part of a new
policy which does not conform to either good labour relations or our
country’s international obligations with respect to Whistle-Blowers.
Given the electoral promises made by this government and the
importance of the struggle to reduce the menace of corruption in our
society, it is very important for us to be attentive to these matters.
UDeCoTT wanted to conceal certain documents and one had to wonder
why, given that they are not involved in secret work. If it was not so
serious it would be comical, they are not a spying, military or health
institution. UDeCoTT is just a facilitator for erecting buildings, yet
their chiefs were able to pretend to the public that a large part of
what they did was confidential. That kind of secrecy could never be in
the public interest. Not ever.
Similarly with EFCL, one has to ask – What is the secret? That
organisation is responsible for the repair and maintenance of schools,
using Public Money to do so.
I wonder if that document, which a number of EFCL staff have now been
required to sign, is legal and binding? Could it withstand a challenge
in the Courts? Did EFCL take proper legal advice in this matter? Was
that advice followed?
The legitimate interests of taxpayers require that the management of
State Enterprises take proper steps to handle these integrity challenges
– Does the EFCL Confidentiality Agreement achieve this?
There is a certain kind of way in which this episode with EFCL is
starting to remind me of the early UDeCoTT grappling, before Uff and so
on, with tremendous difficulty in getting basic dialogue going,
shadow-boxing and bizarre positions being taken.
I really hope that I am wrong, because the correct, encouraging
attitude to Whistle-Blowers is essential for the success of the larger
Public Procurement agenda.
Afra Raymond is President of the Joint Consultative Council for the
Construction Industry (JCC) and Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre